Do you know what Farmville is? If not, lucky you. I do, unfortunately. Long story short, it's a Facebook application where you can tend to your own virtual farm: buying crops, animals, outbuildings...and last year you could even buy fireworks for New Year's Eve 2009/10 which colourfully exploded all over your carefully fertilised strawberries. (Don't ask why you'd be planting strawberries in December.)
More out of curiosity than anything else, I confess that I did briefly give Farmville a go. I've regretted it ever since and to this day I cannot think of a more pointless waste of time. All that virtual ploughing and planting, to then suffer the indignity of withered crops if I didn't harvest them on time. Well, forgive ME for having a real life! I have now quit Farmville, deciding that I'd rather wash my car with manure. I also know of at least one person who, prior to a knee operation, had her laptop out on her bed and was choosing crops which would not need harvesting before she came out of hospital. This was her last concern before going into the operating theatre. Not, as it happens, how she was going to drive home afterwards with a kneeful of steel pins.
Look, ok, there's nothing wrong with computer games, and social gaming is undeniably on the rise. I'd be an idiot not to recognise that this multi-billion dollar industry is more important to a lot of people than God (plus variants) and I do own a PlayStation mark 1 (though haven't touched it in about five years)...but do I really need to "socialise" with my real friends in a virtual farm, on top of other virtual means such as instant messenger, forums and, obviously, email? Oh, did I not mention that key social part of Farmville? Yes, you can neighbour up and fertilise each other's crops and clear away leaves like a good ol' farming buddy. You can even frighten away crows and foxes. Your reward? More virtual money to spend on virtual crops. And if you're not content with how much you're making from harvesting your virtual crops you can actually BUY money (yes, really) using a PayPal account.
I have to confess, though, that it's hard to argue with Farmville's popularity, given that it has a reported 11 million daily players. Spin-offs include YoVille, a Sims-like virtual world where you live in a virtual apartment and do virtual work to earn enough money decorate it. One would think this might be enough of a real-life headache for a high percentage of people to make it an unattractive pastime - but perhaps the players are all bankers or management consultants or something. Who knows. And then there's Restaurant City where you get Â to run your own restaurant and employ your Facebook friends as waiters and chefs. Geez...
The fact is, as much as I can make a song and dance about how much Farmville is a brainwashing waste of time, there is no denying that, among those in the gaming world at least, there is an added enjoyment to online social gaming when literally dozens of friends can all play together at the same time. Zynga, one of the largest social games developers, has already hit 10 million daily active users. That's quite an achievement. Sony and Nintendo had better watch out.
For me, though, given that I sit in front of a computer for ten hours a day as it is, I think I'll probably stick to my novels and films, if you don't mind. Give me real over virtual any day of the week.
By Ashley Morrison
Ashley is a freelance blogger and copywriter